College student changes career path, completes internship after receiving care at Mayo Clinic

Sarah Cosner was halfway through her first semester at the University of Alabama when she experienced frightening symptoms that would eventually lead her to Mayo Clinic. She shares how her patient experience inspired her to change her course of studies.

Like many first-year college students, Sarah Cosner wasn't sure what career field she wanted to pursue. That quickly changed after frightening and unusual symptoms brought her to Mayo Clinic.

Sarah was nearly halfway through her first semester at the University of Alabama in September 2021, when her symptoms began.   

"I remember one day, out of the blue, I felt like I was going to pass out. I got a bad headache, and then the entire right side of my body went numb," Sarah says. "My first thought was I was having a stroke."

Sarah told her roommate what she was feeling, and together, they reviewed the FAST stroke symptoms and ruled that out.

When her symptoms passed, Sarah brushed off the episode as a one-time occurrence. That was, until about a month later, when it happened again without warning. That was only the beginning.

"After that, the episodes started happening more and more — once every other week, then eventually weekly," Sarah says. "I knew something was not right, and I called my mom and told her we needed to make a neurology appointment."

When Sarah returned home for winter break, she visited a neurologist in Melbourne, Florida, a larger city near her hometown. The doctor gave Sarah a physical exam and, though she appeared fine, ordered an MRI for good measure.

"I had an MRI on Dec. 23," Sarah says. "Two hours later, the doctor called and said I had a brain lesion and needed to head into the local hospital."

From there, she was transferred to Mayo Clinic in Florida on Christmas morning.

"I like to say now that it was the best Christmas present I've ever gotten," Sarah says.

Overcoming fear and undergoing surgery

"When I arrived at Mayo Clinic, I was scared at first," Sarah says. "I was only 19 years old at the time and hadn't been hospitalized prior to this, except for minor procedures."

Within minutes of her arrival, that fear turned into optimism.

"The nurses and doctors who came to talk to me and my parents were all reassuring," Sarah says. "They went into detail about what they needed to do to get me feeling better, and I remember thinking, 'Oh my goodness, this is the best place to be for treatment.'"

On Dec. 27, Sarah underwent surgery to remove the brain lesion.

"I remember waking up and feeling better than I thought I would. I was sleepy, but the pain was not too bad," Sarah says. "My surgeon told me they were able to get everything out, and I was so relieved."

After the surgery, Sarah was informed that the size and location of the tumor indicated that she was most likely suffering from parietal lobe seizures and needed an anti-seizure medication to remain symptom-free.

Sarah says she has been feeling good since surgery. Every three months, she has an MRI to check for new lesions.

All of those scans have been clear of any abnormalities.

"It was not easy missing most of my Spring semester, but the Radiation Oncology team comforted me and provided me with a sense of strength and hope to combat those challenges," Sarah says. "I am so grateful for all they did to help me heal."

Charting a new path

Sarah's experience at Mayo Clinic inspired her to change her major from political science to healthcare analytics. She hopes one day to return to work at the place that helped her heal.

And she's already taken steps toward that goal.

This past summer, Sarah worked as an intern in administrative operations at Mayo Clinic in Florida.

During her internship, she helped build an intranet site for the Department of Ophthalmology, gained experience building operating room rotations and call schedules, and even got to witness radiation treatment for a patient with brain cancer.

"It was the best summer ever," Sarah says. "I never really saw myself on the clinical side, but once I was exposed to the administrative side, I saw another way I could use my story to help others."

She also saw the important role nonclinical care plays in meeting patient needs.  

"Every department is critical to fulfilling the mission of the organization and offering treatment to everyone," she says. "It really solidified my career goals."